Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Great Streets

Austin is putting a lot of money into beautifying some downtown streets, and inevitably, there is moaning because parking spaces are being taken away in favor of wider sidewalks and pedestrian safety measures. Ben Wear, the Statesman's transportation writer, tried to give a balanced view of the situation, but he presses the issue of lost parking spaces, drowning out the good these great street programs can have.

I have several problems with focusing on bountiful parking downtown. One, it doesn't consider the myriad of ways people get downtown, it usually demands a good be given for free or substantially marked down price, and it sacrifices the safety of pedestrians, which eventually includes even those who drive in.

Despite the city's efforts to make biking downtown safer, there are still whole blocks you would be mad to cycle down. Especially those that run into I-35, it can be difficult to feel safe, and choose a good path with cars more focused on entering traffic than anything else. I believe cycling fits better with downtown businesses that want people to wander in and out, take their time and windowshop, basically create a mall setup without the awful concrete building. With a car and the traffic it creates, people aren't going to just stop and check something out because it catches their eye, I know, i commute often enough by car that something catches my eye in the window, but there is no way im getting out of line in traffic to buy it.

Many people also ride the bus into downtown, and widening the sidewalks may give Capital Metro a chance to create special stop spots, so they don't disrupt flow of traffic. Calming the traffic downtown and prioritizing pedestrians would go a long way towards making people comfortable shopping downtown, and create the relaxed atmosphere Austin wants to be known for. People feel safe, they are more likely to come and drop cash.

Lastly, I don't begrudge the city trying to make a buck off downtown meters. Car owners in America already receive huge subsidies, and the moaning and groaning people did over extended hours is extreme considering its 6 bucks. It would be one thing if Austin didn't provide another way to get there (cough Houston cough) but there is the bus, train, bicycle that complaints against fees sound extremely childish.

Besides, Ben Wear and the types he writes for are going the way of the dinosaur. Every passing year makes their opinion less important. Downtown wants the younguns, and their money. They go for happy hour, they want to go to the clubs, and they will eat trailer park food. Many business owners expressed enthusiasm for the great streets, and studies* show their enthusiasm is not misplaced.

*I don't have such studies. You want citations go to streetsblog. You want to read articles with words like younguns you stay here.